Brigadier Paul Yonge AO
BE, FIE Aust., FIArbA

Brigadier Yonge graduated from the Royal Military College, Duntroon in 1943 following which he saw service in the 2nd AIF and the British Commonwealth Occupation Force in Japan.

Graduating from Sydney University in Engineering in 1949 he saw subsequent service in Korea, UK, USA, and Australia. Between 1966 and 1968 he was Chief Engineer, Eastern Command. Following service in Vietnam in 1971 he was appointed Director General of Accommodation and Works, and also Engineer in Chief, Australian Army from 1972 to 1974. His final posting 1975 to 1980 was Director General of Materiel, following which he retired.

MILITARY Engineering, throughout the history of warfare, is the name given to armies’ activities which improve the mobility and technical effectiveness of their own forces, and impede the mobility of their enemies. From earliest times, military engineering included road building, bridge building, water supply, harbour works, defence works, the use of machines and engines of war, sapping and mining and the destruction of roads, bridges and defences to deny them to the enemy.

Military engineering came to the ACT in 1911 at the Royal Military College, Duntroon, where it was practised by the staff cadets as part of their military training. Long before the first military bridge was erected across the Molonglo, the practice of Military Engineering had led to the naming of its counterpart — Civil Engineering. Civil Engineering was practiced in the construction of RMC, Duntroon.

As Civil Engineering developed in the 19th century into other branches of engineering such as mechanical and electrical, the Navy and Army encompassed these engineering branches within their own functions. Their use of other branches of engineering was always in a manner peculiarly suited to their own needs of warfare — they used them for military purposes. In later years, aeroplanes were added to the range of military weapons; with them came further engineering requirements not only aeronautical, but also aerodrome construction and other associated activities. It was therefore reasonable to think of all uses of engineering by the armed forces collectively as Military Engineering.

The Navy in 1912 was primarily a user of mechanical and electrical engineering. However, development of the Royal Australian Naval College, Jervis Bay, was a civil engineering project. The Army in 1911 was still on foot or horseback and was oriented towards civil engineering although, at Duntroon, a steam tractor was used for hauling coal to the boilers. The electricity supply was provided by the Army’s own generating equipment, on loan from the fortress engineers who used it for power and searchlights in the coastal fortifications.

From these simple beginnings in the ACT, both the Navy and Army and later the Air Force, (established in 1921) developed their military engineering capacities to encompass virtually every branch and facet of engineering. The three Services’ engineering is now controlled from Canberra by their engineering staffs within the Department of Defence at Russell Offices and Campbell Park.

The engineer Headquarters and offices and the engineer staffs of the Defence group were in most cases established when the Department of Defence and the three Services were still located in Melbourne.

The move to Canberra of these staffs extended over the period of the 1950s to the 1970s, being dependent on the speed of construction of accommodation at Russell and later at Campbell Park. During this period, not only did the Services vary their organisations, but the Department of Defence itself changed greatly as a result of Government initiatives. By the mid 1970s, the policy for all aspects of military engineering emanated from Canberra.


In January 1910, Lord Kitchener, whose early service in the British Army was in the Royal Engineers, visited Australia at the invitation of the Federal Government to advise it on the defences of the Commonwealth. One of his recommendations was that Australia should establish a college for the training of officers of the permanent military forces.

As a result, Colonel William Throsby Bridges, Australian representative on the Imperial General Staff in London, was instructed to visit and report on military colleges in England and North America. He inspected Woolwich and Sandhurst in England, Kingston in Canada and West Point in the United States of America. He arrived back in Australia on 30 May 1910 and was appointed Commandant of the Military College of Australia with the rank of Brigadier-General.

The Government decided that the Military College was to be established near the Federal Capital. Consequently, Bridges visited the Federal Capital site and selected Duntroon which was the homestead of a sheep station established by Robert Campbell in 1825. On November 7, 1910, a lease of the homestead and 370 acres of land for two years was granted by the owner, Colonel John Edward Campbell, a grandson of Robert Campbell, who lived in England. The rental was 750 per year with the right of renewal for a further two years pending negotiations for purchase of the property.

The boundaries of the College were the Yass—Queanbeyan Road, Woolshed Creek, the Molonglo River and Mount Pleasant. The willows on the banks of the Molonglo grew from the first willows brought from Napoleon’s tomb at St. Helena by William Balcombe, Colonial Treasurer of New South ‘Wales.

Buildings and Engineering Services

The provision of buildings and services to support the establishment of the College at Duntroon generally predated the engineering development of Canberra. Accordingly, it was necessary for the College to be a self supporting entity for a number of years as far as engineering services were concerned.

The development of the College commenced under the management of the Department of Home Affairs as soon as the lease of Duntroon was completed in 1910.

When work commenced on the College, Duntroon House had been empty for many years and required renovation throughout to enable use of the building. Robert Campbell had erected a one-storey stone building with Australian cedar joinery in 1833. A large two-storey stone wing, also with cedar joinery, was added by his son George in 1862. After renovations, this fine building became the Officers Mess of the Military College in 1911, and also housed the offices of the Commandant and his personal staff. It is still used for these purposes.

The construction was started of five 16-man cadet barrack blocks, the cadets mess (to seat 150), the sergeants mess and the mess for subordinate staff, the workshop, the classroom block, science laboratories and meteorological observatory, the lecture theatre (to seat 200), two quartermasters stores, stables, five officers quarters, the parade ground and playing fields.

Construction was generally of asbestos cement with timber lining, or timber, with corrugated iron roofing. The five officers quarters (for the Commandant, the Director of Military Art, the Director of Drill, the Professor of Mathematics and the Professor of Physics) were of block and rough cast two-storey construction and remain today (in Parnell Road) as do four timber officers quarters commenced the following year (in Harrison Road).

RoyalAustralian Naval Colleg
Fig. 9.1: Royal Australian Naval College, Jervis Bay. Workshop under construction 1913.
 RANC,Jervis Bay
Fig. 9.2: RANC, Jervis Bay; Sea wall under construction 1913.
Royal Military College
Fig. 9.3: Royal Military College, Duntroon 1911. Steam tractor hauling coal to boiler house.
RMC,Duntroon 1911. Steam tractor and boiler house.
Fig. 9.4: RMC, Duntroon 1911. Steam tractor and boiler house.

In 1911—12, the second set of cadets barracks were completed and the third commenced. Six wooden cottages for non-commissioned officers were completed, and the menege for training in cavalry equitation started. In the following year, a small ammunition magazine and the College gymnasium were constructed and by 1914, the College construction was virtually finished off with the completion of more NCO quarters, the gun park, a pharmacy and small hospital, a small astronomical observatory on Mt Pleasant, stables, a farriers shop and a sports pavilion.

Construction continued until the effect of war economies was felt from 1915. For the remainder of the war and the post war period, little building was undertaken. Indeed, reports up until the move initiated by the Depression to Victoria Barracks in Sydney in 1930 repeatedly indicated difficulties in maintaining the buildings due to shortages in repair and maintenance monies.

It is of note that the cadets barracks, which were designed as temporary shells housing furniture and fittings to be subsequently used in permanent buildings, were still in use as barracks when the College moved to Sydney in 1930. It might be observed that the military interpretation, or acceptance of the word “temporary” was as broad half a century ago as today.

The first major horizontal construction was the parade ground, 80 metres long by 70 metres wide with a gravel surface, built in 1911. In 1914—15, gravelled roads and stormwater drainage were formed and graded.

Duntroon was not selected as a site for the College until the Department of Home Affairs gave an assurance that a sufficient supply of pure drinking water could be provided.

The arrangements proposed were that until the Federal Capital supply was available, rainwater from the roofs should be stored for drinking, and water from a shallow well on the flats used for washing and other purposes. An oil engine was used to pump the well water to a 30,000 gallon reservoir on the hill above the College, and the water was passed fit for human consumption, fortunately, as the rainwater system was incomplete.

The following year a larger rising main and a new engine were installed. The need for a larger reservoir had already become evident. A shortage of water prevented the College opening after the Christmas break in February 1919, but in September of that year the Cotter Dam supply was connected to the College. Flooding irrigation from the Molonglo river was used effectively for the College vegetable gardens from 1920.

Robert Campbell
Fig. 9.5: Robert Campbell’s Duntroon homestead, 1870.
RMC, Duntroon 1910.
Fig. 9.6: RMC, Duntroon 1910. Construction of Cadet barrack block.

Sewerage. Initially a pan system operated by a Queanbeyan contractor was used. While reported as a satisfactory service, attention was also drawn in reports to a much needed extension of the College grounds for the depositing of night soil. By 1912 a septic tank had been constructed and water closets were being substituted for earth pans.

Heating. A steam engine supplied steam for the laundry, cooking, heating the cadets mess and barracks, and running a saw bench. The barracks heating system was completed by June 1912 and functioned effectively.

Electricity. In 1911 an electric light plant, consisting of a 28 hp oil engine, dynamo and accumulator battery of the types used in forts of the period, was set up and operated by Royal Australian Engineers. The Federal Capital electricity supply service had been promised for 1912, and the plant was then to be used for instruction in searchlights and other purposes. In the event, the Federal supply was not connected until 1915 and gas plant and oil lamps were used to supplement the system.

Return to Canberra

The College returned to Duntroon in 1937 after a series of new buildings had been erected around the parade ground and repair and maintenance carried out on the existing buildings.

The 1939—45 war again saw economies, and no significant development occurred until the 1950s. In the ten years from 1952—62 many facilities were constructed under the control of the Department of Works and Housing and partly by Royal Australian Engineer Unit detachments. Another expansion occurred with the increasing numbers and the development of the Faculties of Engineering, Arts and Science in the early 1970s.

Possibly the most significant construction in the post war period has been the Royal Military College Anzac Memorial Chapel. The Chapel comprises two wings — the combined Protestant and Anglican Chapel and the Roman Catholic Chapel — under a common narthex and was constructed by Royal Australian Engineer Sapper tradesmen and completed in 1966.

Since 1936, the responsibility for works matters in the College has been vested in an officer of the Royal Australian Engineers in the appointments of Staff Officer Engineer Services (1936—1952), Staff Officer Royal Engineers (1952), Deputy Commander Royal Engineers (Works) RMC (1952—58), Staff Officer Grade 2 (Works) RMC (1958—59), Commander Royal Engineers (Works) RMC/ACT (1968—74) and Chief Engineer ACT (1974— present).

Military Engineering Instruction

One of the considerations when establishing the College was whether to carry out training for all Arms at one school, as at the US Military Academy at West Point and the Royal Military College of Canada at Kingston, or at different schools as in England and France. The Royal Military College at Sandhurst educated candidates for commissions in Cavalry, Infantry and Army Service Corps. The Royal Military Academy at Woolwich produced officers for the technical corps of Royal Artillery and Royal Engineers. The answer was decided by the small numbers to be trained. Thirty-two Australian and ten New Zealand cadets entered the College in 1911. The number of artillery and engineer graduates required then, and in the forseeable future, made separate schools impractical. Duntroon, then, was to produce the officers of the Royal Australian Engineers.

All cadets undertook the same course. Approximately half the four-year course was devoted to military instruction and half to civil subjects, the latter being concentrated mainly in the first two years. Civil subjects included Mathematics, English, Modern Languages, Physics and Chemistry. The Military subjects were Military Geography and History, Tactics, Artillery, Military Engineering, Drawing, Administration and Law, Topography and Drill and Physical Training.

The aim of the instruction in Military Engineering was to provide a good general knowledge for regimental or staff officers in any branch of the service. About 15 per cent of the military instruction was devoted to the subject. Military engineering of the day consisted mainly of work on field defences and assistance to the mobility of infantry and cavalry units. It was intensive in manpower, accordingly most of the instruction at Royal Military College was practical, much of it carried out during annual camps on the Molonglo River or the plains around Yarralumla.

Instruction to first year cadets (Fourth Class) was intended to prepare them for such camps. The curriculum covered the planning and laying out of works, design of simple earthworks, and the provision of water, cooking and sanitary arrangements for camps. Instruction to second year cadets (Third Class) was limited to practical application of these camping procedures and an introduction to obstacles, knots and lashings, and use of tackles and spars. Third year cadets (Second Class) spent most of a six week camp on Military Engineering. As well as furthering the understanding and application of work already covered, they moved onto design and construction of bridges, including trestle and suspension types, and rafts. Another use for tackles and spars was for field machines for construction of artillery observation posts.

Instruction to fourth year cadets (First Class) included floating and suspension bridges, demolitions, sapping and mining and theoretical aspects of roads, railways and telegraphs, coast defences and lights, and wireless stations. The Royal Australian Engineers were, at that time, responsible for field engineering, fortress engineering and power supplies, mining and railway engineering and survey and signals.

As there was at the time of the foundation of the College no engineer officer in the Australian forces both available and competent to instruct in Military Engineering, it was decided to obtain an officer of the Royal Engineers. Captain R.L. Wailer RE was the first, followed by Lieutenant R.P. Pakenham-Walsh RE. When Pakenham- Walsh left in May 1915, his place was temporarily taken by Lieutenant R. Park RAE, pending a replacement. Although the British War Office was asked to nominate a convalescent officer, none was forthcoming and from that time the appointment was filled by officers of RAE. Many notable RAE officers served as Instructor Military Engineering in the following years including Lt Col V.A.H. Sturdee, DSO, OBE (1924—25) and Lieutenant M.F. Brogan (1939—40) each of whom later became Chief of the General Staff.

The first intake of cadets was commissioned early, in August 1914, ten days after Australia’s declaration of war. Of the twenty-seven Australians to graduate, three went to Light Horse, eleven to Artillery, two to Engineers and eleven to Infantry. The Second Class also graduated in 1914, more than twelve months prematurely. By the end of the war one-hundred-and-fifty-eight Duntroon graduates had seen active service. Of these, forty-two were killed and fifty-eight wounded.

RMC, Duntroon 1911.
Fig. 9.7: RMC, Duntroon 1911. Senior officers’ quarters under construction.
RMC, Duntroon 1911. Four
Fig. 9.8: RMC, Duntroon 1911. Four of the five senior officers’ quarters.
RMC, Duntroon 1912
Fig. 9.9: RMC, Duntroon 1912. Menage. Riding School.

Much of the engineer instruction was of practical lasting value to the young College and, at times, to the district. In 1916, Second Class constructed a 45 metre long suspension footbridge across the Molonglo River as part of its annual camp. This bridge remained in use until July 1922 when the biggest flood for many years washed it away, along with several other bridges in the district. Occasionally, cadets and staff were able to undertake interesting activities outside the curriculum. In 1918, the Instructor Military Engineering, Major O.W.E. Robson, RAE, was able to undertake what is thought to be the first demolition trials in Australia using trinitrotoluene. Tests were conducted using a large steel girder and 60 lb railway plate. Although the girder was not completely cut, Major Robson concluded that the explosive was as effective as three or four times the same weight of guncotton,. He considered that guncotton was likely to remain the leading service explosive as the slabs were easy to handle whereas the TNT powder had to be contained, in this case in a calico tube. Some months later, Major Robson repeated the trials using double the charge, to successfully cut the girder. He had changed his opinion of the new explosive, considering that the powdered form was easily handled and gave close contact with the target. He concluded that the diameter of explosive tube should be four times the thickness of steel.

The curriculum changed little until the early 1920s. In 1923 military work occupied 55 per cent of the programme, still concentrated in the last two years. Military Engineering occupied only six per cent of the military instruction time but was worth 11 per cent of the marks. The changes in warfare during World War I and, in particular, technological advances, meant that military engineering was becoming less of an all-arms responsibility and more of a specialist skill. All First Class cadets were given some instruction in civil engineering, such as calculation of strength of beams and girders. In 1925, First Class cadets were introduced to reinforced concrete design, including design of reinforced concrete bridges.

The remaining instruction in Military Engineering varied little from that of the 1911 curriculum except that the amount of time devoted in various classes varied from year to year. In 1923, there was no instruction in Fourth Class and only instruction in elementary theory in Third Class. Second Class was instructed in earthworks, field geometry, knots and lashings, use of tackles and spars, and light testle bridging. First Class moved onto floating, suspension and framed trestle bridging, demolitions and engineer reconnaissance.

The requirements of the Army in the early 1930s were such that there was no intake in 1931 and the cadet strength was only 31. In the interest of economy, the College was temporarily moved to Victoria Barracks in Sydney in 1931. During this year, First Class cadets commenced specialist training in the fields to which they would graduate. The requirement for qualified engineers in RAE was well recognised and so specialist training for selected potential engineer officers was directed at preparing them for third year university courses in engineering. It included instruction in civil engineering by both the Instructor, Military Engineering and academic lecturers, visits to engineering works and projects, and attachment to RAE units.

When the College moved back to Duntroon in 1937, specialist training continued with one or two First Class cadets receiving additional instruction in a variety of subjects, primarily aimed at further study in civil or mechanical engineering. To meet a requirement for more officers in the later 1930s, the course was shortened to three years in 1938, with two classes graduating. The course was eventually shortened to two years during World War II, necessitating the dropping of some civil subjects and limiting the scope of instruction in some Military Engineering. The training was aimed at enabling graduates in non-engineer arms to carry out their own field works, thereby reducing demands on engineer units. Emphasis was placed on self help and expedient works and accordingly training was mostly practical with a minimum of time spent in classrooms. During World War II, the practice of sending RMC Engineering graduates to the third and fourth years of Engineering at Sydney University was discontinued. Specialist training continued but with the emphasis on field engineering.

The RMC course returned to a four year duration in 1947. In the same year specialist training reverted to one demolished with technical emphasis aimed at preparation for university. In 1948 the common academic course for all cadets was discontinued and separate courses in Arts and Science were introduced. A further course in Engineering was introduced in 1949.

As occurred after World War I, changes in technology on the battlefield affected the training requirement at RMC. Increased emphasis was placed on minewarfare and equipment bridging, including the new Bailey Bridge. It was impractical and uneconomical to carry out much of this training at RMC. In 1940, Third Class spent a week at the School of Military Engineering at Casula, NSW, undergoing training, mainly in bridging and watermanship. Cadets had undergone training at SME on previous occasions, but never on a regular basis. The success of the 1940 and subsequent visits was such that it remained a regular annual visit, generally for Third Class, until 1969 after which it was discontinued. During this period, the aspects of Military Engineering which were studied remained roughly the same. They covered demolitions, minewarfare, booby traps, obstacles, water supply, field surveying, roads, bridging and engineer services. The presentation of the subject varied considerably. Sometimes it was all given in First Class, other times none in First Class and sometimes spread over all classes.

RMC, Duntroon 1913
Fig. 9.10: RMC, Duntroon 1913. Menage Riding School in use.
RMC, Duntroon. Astronomical observatory on'\
Fig. 9.11: RMC, Duntroon. Astronomical observatory on Mt. Pleasant used for instruction of cadets. Now demolished

The adoption of three separate academic courses in 1949, and the many changes to the RMC curriculum that followed are described by Professor Arthur Corbett in Chapter 10.


The RAN College, Jervis Bay, is situated partly on land granted to the Commonwealth in 1909 and partly on land granted in 1915. The consolidation of Commonwealth property at Jervis Bay was completed in 1915 when the State of NSW granted to the Commonwealth Crown Lands and also Sovereign Rights over an area of about 7200 hectares for the purpose of the Seat of Government. This was effected under the Seat of Government Surrender (State) and Acceptance (Commonwealth) Acts. At that time it was intended to establish a Federal Port in the vicinity at some future date.

A conference to discuss requirements for a Naval College was held early in 1912 between the Minister for Defence, the Minister for Home Affairs, Capt. Chambers, RN (Captain designate for the College) and the Director of Works, and in May the Department of Home Affairs prepared to go ahead with the building. Negotiations with the NSW Government for the provision of a railway to connect Captain’s Point, Jervis Bay with Nowra were undertaken and in July 1912, a survey commenced for both this line and for a railway to connect Captain’s Point with the Federal Capital.

By July 1913, progress had been made with the single officers quarters, with parts of the cadets accommodation, the academic block, the engineering workshop and with the power house; work was still to begin on the married officers quarters, the wharf and administrative blocks.

Early in 1914, the Prime Minister asked for a reduction in expenditure in the building programme, including a reduction in the size and number of married quarters for officers and men and postponement of building of some classrooms.

No documents other than plans relating to the design and construction of the College are known to exist and the names of individual architects of the Public Works Branch of the Department of Home Affairs involved in the work are lost.

Although the site and buildings were not finished, the College moved from Geelong over Christmas 1914 and training began in early 1915 with commissioning of the site as HMAS Franklin. When the cadets moved in, the boat- house and slip and the piers together with many minor items were incomplete.

During 1915, the breakwater was extended to about 240 metres, the stone being quarried just to the east of the College area and delivered by a railway line running along the shore. Other works included two classrooms either side of the laboratory building, the stables and the magazine.

By the end of 1915, the College comprised about sixty buildings which accommodated the cadets, naval personnel and civilian employees. Materials used in the construction of the buildings were concrete, hardwoods and weatherboard. The dark red wood with white stucco and concrete and red roofing tiles gave the College a distinctive style. The roads and paths were of white sandstone top-dressed with red iron-stone gravel. As the area was bushland with no humus and almost pure sand, grasses and 2,000 seedling trees were planted to reduce wind blown sand.

At the end of 1921 the number of cadets at the College was drastically reduced as was the number of staff. The Navy vote was much reduced in 1929—30 and a hasty decision was made to move the College to Flinders Naval Depot in Victoria at the end of 1930.

RMC, Duntroom 1911. Electric light
Fig. 9.12: RMC, Duntroom 1911. Electric light plant adapted from a fortress installation.
RMC, Duntroon 1912. Trestle bridge built
Fig. 9.13: RMC, Duntroon 1912. Trestle bridge built by cadets for military engineering training.
RMC, Duntroon 1912. Suspension bridge
Fig. 9.14: RMC, Duntroon 1912. Suspension bridge built by cadets for military engineering training.
RAJC, Duntroon 1918.APolienski raft
Fig. 9.15: RMC, Duntroon 1918.A Polienski raft carrying an 18 pounder gun and limber. Built by cadets for military engineering training.
RMC, Duntroon 19/6. 45 metre suspension
Fig. 9.16: RMC, Duntroon 1916 45 metre suspension footbridge across Molonglo River. Built by cadets for military engineerinq training
	RMC, Duntroon 1912. Construcing an artillery
Fig. 9.17: RMC, Duntroon 1912. Constructing an artillery observation post using field machines as part of cadets’ military engineering training.
 RMC Duntroon 19/2. Erecting Artillery observation
Fig. 9.18: RMC Duntroon 1912. Erecting Artillery observation post using field machines.

From 1930 until the College returned and was commissioned as HMAS Creswell in 1958, little changed, the buildings being maintained and used for various Government purposes and as a holiday resort.

Professional Training at RAN College

The professional Naval subjects taught to cadets at the College were: seamanship, gunnery, navigation and engineering. The engineering workshop and the power house used for the normal running and maintenance of the watercraft and the College were used for engineering instruction.

The first Engineer Officer of the College was Engineer Commander W.A. Monk, RN who returned to the UK at the end of 1914 and served during the war in destroyers.

Instruction in engineering was given to all cadets whether they were to pass out as Engineers or not. The aim was to give instruction in the different types of engines used in a warship and a general insight into the working of power driven machinery. Workshop Practice and Mechanical Drawing were also studied. The year’s syllabus for Practical Engineering in the 1930s included the following subjects:

Petrol Engine Torsion Meter Boiler Cleaning
Diesel Engine Machine Shop Stream boat
Heating Machinery stripping Power House
Refrigeration Copper Smith
Evaporators Foundry

In 1921, the Engineering Course was recognised as a matriculation course. Until 1968, subsequent professional engineering training was undertaken at the Royal Naval Engineering College in England. In 1968, accreditation was given to RANC to conduct, selected University of NSW Courses in Engineering. The first year level is conducted at RANC Jervis Bay and the following years are completed at the University of New South Wales.

RMC, Duntroon 1912. Artillery observation
Fig. 9.19: RMC, Duntroon 1912. Artillery observation post ready for use.
RMC, Duntroon 1919. Cadets engaged
Fig. 9.20: RMC, Duntroon 1919. Cadets engaged in military engineering training in demolition with gun-cotton slabs.
 RANC, Jervis Bay 1913.
Fig. 9.21: RANC, Jervis Bay 1913. Power house and engineering workshops. Used for engineering instruction.

HMAS Harman

Proposals to make Canberra the centre for RAN long distance wireless communications were first made in 1925. In 1937, sites for a transmitting station and a receiving station were selected at Belconnen and Red Hill respectively and approval to start construction was given on 6 September 1938. Work commenced at Belconnen in November and at Harman in early 1939.

The Transmitting station was established on 20 April 1939, with one 200 kw long wave, one 10 kw short wave and two 20 kw short wave transmitters. The first transmission was made on 22 December, and the Receiving Station was also completed that month.

The Canberra Times of Wednesday, 12 April 1939 re-ported.

‘The first batch of 30 naval officers and ratings to operate and guard the powerful short wave naval radio base at Canberra will arrive here next Monday. They will form the advance guard of the 200 men who will occupy the two naval villages now being established on either side of Canberra, 11 miles (17.5 km) apart. The base will be the most powerful naval wireless station in the British Empire, and the largest naval or commercial station in the southern hemisphere.’

Future WRANS telegraphists (at first called Women’s Emergency Signal Corps) joined on 28 April, 1941 and by the end of World War II exceeded 300 in number; today, WRANS are integrated into all departments in Harman, including electrical technicians employed on maintaining the radio equipment.

The Transmitting and Receiving Stations were both commissioned as HMAS Harman on 1 July 1943 and in 1949 the Navy requested permission to build a new Receiving Station at Bonshaw. The station was completed in 1955 and the direction finding hut in 1956.

HMAS Harman is now the home of the Naval Communications Station (NAVCOMMSTA) Canberra, which comprises the Communications Centre at Harman itself, the Receiving Station at Bonshaw, and the Transmitting Station at Belconnen (where there are now 40 transmitters).

 RANC, Jervis Bay 1913. Power house
Fig. 9.22: RANC, Jervis Bay 1913. Power house used for engineering instruction.


A Royal Australian Air Force squadron (No. 8) was stationed at Canberra in September 1939 on the outbreak of World War II. Some of the personnel subsequently joined the RAAF station established in April 1940. Until the end of the war, the station was an operations base for antisubmarine patrols and a training school for joint Army/RAAF activities.

Australian squadrons based at Canberra during the war were Nos 4, 8 and 13 squadrons and three Dutch squadrons from the Netherlands East Indies which arrived in Australia after the fall of Java to the Japanese.

The Canberra station was reformed in 1952 as Head- quarters RAAF, Canberra, and Base Squadron, Canberra. Subsequently the name was changed in both instances to ‘Fairbairn’, thus conforming with the name of the airfield used also as a civil airport. (The full story of the development of both civil and military aviation at Canberra is dealt with in Chapter Eleven).

No. 2 School of Technical Training

The first RAAF installation at Canberra was the No. 2 School of Technical Training which was originally formed on 18 December 1939 as the No. 2 Civil Training Centre. Its purpose was to provide efficient technical trades training for RAAF personnel under the Empire Air Training Scheme.

The training centre was situated at the RAAF Station, Canberra in the area where barracks were being erected for the developing station. Technical training policy provided that the first course for one hundred trainees would receive fitting instruction at the Canberra Technical College, and suitable arrangements were made to that effect with the College’s Principal.

The first sixty trainees were posted to the unit on 19 December 1939, followed by a further fifty-one on 5 February 1940. By 20 February 1940 the establishment was ready to train up to 316 trainees.

Construction of new barracks at Canberra Technical College in Kingston commenced in mid-May 1940. With an average of fifty men employed on construction, the seventeen buildings for the school, including a small hospital and eight accommodation huts, were ninety-nine per cent complete by the end of June, progress being so satisfactory that construction was a month ahead of schedule. Being eager to occupy its new accommodation, the school moved from the RAAF Station to Kingston on I July 1940. It was finally disbanded on 16 November 1945 when wartime training requirements ceased.

During its existence, the unit conducted a variety of trade training courses for aircraft maintenance, along with many non-technical courses. Altogether, 578 courses were conducted between December 1939 and July 1945, with some 3,921 students passing through the School.

Shortly after the end of World War lithe ACT was again called upon to support the RAAF training system, but this time under peacetime pressures resulting from an overloading of facilities and capabilities of the technical training establishment at RAAF Base Wagga. This led to the formation of a Detachment B of the Ground Training School at RAAF Base, Fairbairn which functioned between 30 October 1951 and 17 September 1953.

With the introduction of progressively more complex aircraft, the RAAF found in 1962 that there was a need to conduct training at Units to fit basically-trained tradesmen to work on the specific types of aircraft being operated. Today, the two Squadrons based at Fairbairn conduct field training courses in all the aircraft trades to provide the range of skills needed for operation of the Utility Helicopter and VIP fleets.

However, whilst no pure engineering instruction has been given at either No. 2 School of Technical Training or RAAF Base Fairbairn, both organisations have contributed much to providing the increasing range and depth of skills needed to support modern aircraft in both peace and war.

RAAF Gungahlin

In March 1940, the RAAF was informed that approximately 32 hectares of land at Gungahlin had been acquired from Dr J.F. Watson. Construction of a wireless transmitting station began without delay, and in mid-1942 the RAAF formally established and occupied the RAAF Gungahlin Wireless Transmitting Station. From its beginning to the end of the war it was a joint Navy and Air Force venture, though today it is wholly owned and operated by the RAAF on behalf of the Meteorological Bureau.

Since 1932, the RAAF has been regularly broadcasting weather information for the Bureau. Initially, these broadcasts were made in morse code by hand and later by automatic morse and radio teletypes. Today, modern equipment has been installed which introduces the ‘Facsimile Weather Chart Broadcasts’ bringing RAAF broadcasts to a standard equal to the world’s best. The information presented is invaluable to both civil and service aircraft, shipping and weather forecasts. Indeed, this is a far cry from the very modest beginnings of the RAAF’s Meteorological Section at Canberra in November 1940. The newly-formed Section was then housed in the civil hangar at the aerodrome and consisted of three officers and one observer, responsible for forecasting prevailing weather conditions up to within a 160 km radius of Canberra.


The Department of Defence Central staffs past and present with engineering functions include:

Defence Industry and Material Policy Division

This Division establishes policies and standard systems from the Defence industrial point of view for the presentation and processing of the Services equipment proposals. The engineers in this Division are civilians.

Materiel Branches

The Chiefs of Naval Materiel, Army Materiel and Air Force Materiel coordinate the development of each Service’s new proposals for major equipment from the conceptual stage to the letting of contracts. Although the three Services vary in their methods of operation, these staffs are generally engineering oriented. The Naval Chief of Materiel, Rear Admiral W.J. Rourke, AO, MEc, FRINA, FIE Aust. and a recent Army Chief of Materiel Major-General D.F.W. Engel, AO, CBE, BE (Civil), FIE Aust. are engineers.

Defence Facilities Division

This Division incorporates the Directors-General of Accommodation and Works for the three Services. It deals with the civil engineering requirements of Defence and Service establishments. In the case of the Army, this office is to a large extent manned by officers of the Royal Australian Engineers. One of the Army’s engineering directorates — Director of Fortifications and Works — lost its interesting name when incorporated into the Defence Department organisations in 1970.

Technical Services

The Chief of Naval Technical Services, the Director- General, Electrical and Mechanical Engineering — Army and the Chief of Air Force Technical Services formulate the engineering and maintenance policies for their own Services and those common to all Services.

The Quality Assurance and Engineering Resources Policy Division

Covers Defence Central and joint Services policies on quality assurance, technical resources and repair and maintenance. The Directors of Naval Ordnance Inspections, Naval Quality Assurance, and the Directors- General of Quality Assurance, Army and Air Force each have engineering staffs in their own Service offices.

Engineering Analysis

The Engineering Analysis Directorate provides policy proposals on the use of industrial engineering, work study and value analysis.

Defence Communications System

The Operations and Engineering Branch of the Defence Communications System Division is involved in the construction, operation and maintenance of the Defence Communications System and for its engineering and technical standards.

Laboratories and Trials

The Service Laboratories and Trials Division planned and executed trials of Service equipment. It maintained a source of engineering design, development and modification for defence force equipment. Two engineers, Air Vice- Marshall R. Noble, AO, BE, FIE Aust., and Rear Admiral D.F. Lynam CBE, FIE Aust., were occupants of the post of Chief of this Division, which has recently been dispersed among other Branches.

Navy Office

Until 1960, the Department of Navy’s Naval Technical Services Branch, under the then Third Naval Member (and Chief of Naval Technical Services) of the Australian Commonwealth Naval Board, was located in Melbourne, when it moved to Canberra.

During the Defence re-organisation approved as a result of the Tange Report in the early 1970s, the Naval Board was dissolved and the Third Naval Member’s title became Chief of Naval Technical Services.

From 1976 the Naval Technical Services Division of the Department of Defence progressively moved across to its new home in Campbell Park Offices, culminating in the Chief of Naval Technical Services moving there in 1978.

Campbell Park is now the permanent home for the headquarters of Naval Engineering in Australia.

Within Navy Office, the Naval Technical Services Division consists of Design Branch, Dockyards and Maintenance Branch and Production Branch. Among other Directorates are those of Naval Aircraft Engineering, Naval Ship Design, Naval Weapons Design and Naval Communications Design. Ships and naval weapons are either selected, developed, designed or maintained as a result of efforts by this and other staffs of Navy Office at Campbell Park.

Army Office

Within the Operations Branch of Army Office, the Director of Engineers is one of the Combat Arms Directors alongside Armour, Artillery and Infantry. He and his staff are members of the Royal Australian Engineers who are the original military engineers and whose role in close tactical support of the army in battle is to assist that army to live, to move and to fight. The modern military engineer still builds roads, bridges, and field defences. He now uses specially designed explosives and mechanical equipment to destroy those of the enemy. Modern needs have widened his tasks to building tactical airfields, rapidly-constructed equipment bridges and ferries for tanks up to 60 tons weight, laying anti-tank minefields and tank obstacles and breaching the enemies minefields and obstacles. The expertise and policy for developing these capacities stems from the Director of Engineers Office at Campbell Park.

Air Office

From the inception of the RAAF in 1921, until 1961, Air Force Engineering management was centralised within the Department of Air, which was located in Melbourne. In 1961, the Air Member for Technical Services, then Air Vice-Marshal E. Hey, CB, CBE, moved from Melbourne with the policy making elements of his Technical Branch, as part of the transfer of the Department of Air to Canberra. Today, the Chief of Air Force Technical Services, provides Technical Services support for the RAAF as part of an Air Force office which now forms part of a single Department of Defence, the old Department of Air organisation having lapsed with the Defence Force organisation of 1972.

Although the engineering organisation within the RAAF has been modified over the years to meet changes in technology and operational needs, it has remained substantially the same over recent years.

Engineering management is applied through Directorates that deal essentially with Aircraft and their systems, Telecommunications (Ground and Air) and Weapons. The development of technical services policy and the management of maintenance activities are the province of Directors of Maintenance Plans and Technical Plans. The plans and policies so developed are applied and managed in detail by Headquarters Operational Command and Headquarters Support Command.

Thus, finally, the central control of all Technical Services functions in the RAAF, including pure engineering, has moved and now resides within the Air Force Office, in Canberra.


In my role as the collector and editor of papers on the many aspects of engineering practised by the Department of Defence, Royal Australian Navy, the Australian Army and the Royal Australian Air Force in the ACT, I am indebted to the following:

  • Brigadier John McDonagh, FIE Aust. who initiated work on this chapter prior to his departure from Canberra.
  • The Chiefs of Staff of the three Services and the Commandant of the Royal Military College, Duntroon who supported the project by allowing their staffs to take part as contributors with access to official records.
  • Colonel L.H.R. Fuhrman (RL), Archivist Royal Military College, Duntroon for assistance and access to records, and loan of negatives of photographs.
  • The Chief of Naval Materiel, the Chief of Air Force Technical Services and the Director General of Accommodation and Works (Air Force) for their personal interest and contributions by members of their staffs.
  • Commander V. Littlewood, RAN, Commanding Officer HMAS Harman for his contribution on that establishment.
  • Major J. Burrough, BE, Chief Engineer (Army) ACT and Major G. Kelly, MIE Aust., RMC for their contributions on the Civil and Military Engineering History of RMC, Duntroon.
  • Flt.Lt. A. McGrath, BCE for his contributions on the RAAF.
  • Brigadier W.J. Urquhart, who was cadet No. I at RMC Duntroon in 1911. He graduated into the Royal Australian Artillery in 1914. Many of the early photographs reproduced in this chapter were taken by him while a cadet at Duntroon.
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